As modern life has increasingly become urbanized for many or most people, so has the ubiquity of disturbance. By disturbance I mean sonic, socio/politico or other stimuli that might intrude somehow on one’s natural, cerebral equilibrium. The effect over time can be such complete habituation that an absence of disturbance may itself become, well, somewhat disturbing. Witness the acquaintance(s) for whom conversational or audio/video entertainment gaps constitute a kind of situational, emotional torture that must be avoided whenever and by whatever means possible.
At least in the case of my wife and I, the hubbub of modernity (which is amplified in no small measure by the many things we enjoy) needs what we would call therapeutic attenuation from time to time. A priceless means of accomplishing that attenuation is through the imposition of “Stillness” on the mind. Although a certain amount of library-type silence is typical of Stillness, the right kind of physical environment can function as the perfect cradle for nurturing Stillness.
To experience “Stillness,” in what is perhaps my own idiosyncratic sense of the word, is to quiet the mind such that consciousness melds with peacefulness, creating a cocoon of spiritual tranquility.
The red rock country of Utah, Mexico, Arizona and Colorado offers a kaleidoscopic wealth of opportunities to bask in and appreciate the sublime timelessness of our mother earth. Recently, my wife (whose levels of professional stress had been Covidapulted into the stratosphere) introduced me to a mecca of scenic red rock splendor I’d not visited before: Valley of the Gods.
Valley of the Gods is in Utah’s southeast corner, west of Bluff and north of Mexican Hat. A dirt road (cleverly named Valley of the Gods Road) peels off of Utah Hwy 163 (west of Bluff) or Utah Hwy 261 (north of Mexican Hat) and presents visitors a valley surprisingly vast given its diminutive appearance on our Utah map. The Valley is BLM; plentiful dispersed camping is both primitive and widely spaced enough that no sense of crowding is likely to accompany even the most populous peak season crowds. In Utah’s Valley of the Gods, Stillness abounds.
Arriving late in the afternoon, we drove along the main road in search of a likely campsite. Spots closer to where we departed highway 163 were already occupied, but a lovely spot nestled in the shadow of Rooster Butte rewarded our patience beautifully, in both aesthetic and logistical terms.
The broad valley floor is dotted with juniper, rabbitbrush, cottonwood poplars, and the occasional cactus, some adorned with beautiful flowers. Except for reasonably abundant lizards and ravens, we saw no wildlife. But to viscerally appreciate Valley of the Gods is to view it in its majestic totality. In point of fact, “majestic” seems too puny a word for the experience on the one hand but fitting for its lack of more gaudy grandeur on the other, given that the Valley’s numerous buttes and other towering formations are themselves distributed quite sparsely across the landscape.
Valley of the Gods is not home to established walking trails, but the vast and predominately flat landscape fairly compels exploration in whichever direction one might choose. The main road carries semi-regular traffic of automobiles, motorcycles and mountain bikes, but forays off the road are mostly for campsite access, which atomizes the associated noise such that it is dispersed into silence mere feet from where it originates.
Valley of the Gods rewards the Valley wanderer with vistas stretching far enough into the distance that the various red rock formations and swells dim, taking on an eerily ghostly aspect. During our trip the wind was a regular feature, especially in the evening as the day’s warm temperatures retreated before the evening’s advancing coolness. The light daytime breeze proved a welcome counterweight to afternoon temps hovering just south of triple digits. In coming weeks our visit’s level of heat is bound to seem agreeably temperate by comparison.
Once camped in our site under Rooster Butte, we saw no need for further vehicular travel. Travel on foot, then, undertaken with the objective of satisfying our native curiosity rather than as a demonstration of rugged outdoor stamina, punctuated our daylight time between campsite relaxation, conversation and meals. Mile after mile of stunning, pristine spectacle unfolded before our eyes with every hike into the surrounding beyond. Time and again a treasured Zen saying, “Every step in the journey is the journey,” flitted tranquilly through my mind.
We were, in other words, thoroughly, therapeutically, immersed in the Valley’s soaring, enveloping Stillness.